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  • Viennese Jewish Modernism: Freud, Hofmannsthal, Beer-Hofmann, and Schnitzler
  • Alison Rose
Abigail Gillman . Viennese Jewish Modernism: Freud, Hofmannsthal, Beer-Hofmann, and Schnitzler. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. Pp. x, 215. Paper $60.00. ISBN: 9780271034096.

Abigail Gillman's study of Viennese Jewish modernism is a welcome edition to the literature on fin de siècle Viennese Jewry and European modernism. Setting out to define exactly what constitutes Viennese Jewish modernism, she focuses on the works of four somewhat disparate individuals: Sigmund Freud, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Beer-Hofmann, and Arthur Schnitzler. Of the four, only Freud did not belong to the Jung Wien literary circle, only Hofmannsthal was not Jewish but of Jewish descent, and only Beer-Hofmann fully embraced Judaism as a religious and national identity. Much of the book is dedicated to finding and elucidating the underlying themes that connect their works. Gillman identifies as the primary affinities of the works examined a concern with memory, wrestling with Jewish identity and sources, and the shared practice of seeking new genres for the expression of cultural memory (8).

The shared concern with how to express cultural memory is the second of Gillman's two basic theses alongside her claim that "Viennese Jewish modernism is a literary historical construct that attempts to make sense of modernist experiments that link Jewish Vienna to European modernism" (8). She refers to the Historical Exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Vienna (reopened in 1994 in the center of the city), which depicts Austrian Jewish history through a series of holograms and questions why the museum chose the most fleeting of media to represent the much ignored Austrian Jewish past. Holograms are an avant-garde form that juxtaposes images without making the connections and denies the priorities of history. She suggests that holograms exemplify what [End Page 102] is meant by "genre" throughout her book. Viennese Jewish modernists were like the makers of holograms in that they "deployed their aesthetic constructs to recombine history and memory in specific ways for specific purposes" (12). In her focus on the turn to tradition and memory in the works of Viennese Jewish modernists, Gillman challenges the interpretation of Viennese modernism as a rejection of the past as defined by Carl Schorske and others (Fin de Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture). While scholars such as Steven Beller, Marsha Rozenblit, Robert Wistrich, and Ivar Oxaal have documented the Jewish contribution to Viennese culture, she adds a new perspective by asking "what exactly was Jewish about the modernism these Jews created?" (20).

The book is organized both chronologically and thematically. Part one, on genres of memory, begins with a chapter on Freud's works "Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood" (1910), "Moses of Michaelangelo" (1914), and "Moses and Monotheism" (1938). By reading Freud through the lens of Viennese Jewish modernism, Gillman explores the centrality of memory in Freud's work. She demonstrates that he responded to dilemmas of Jewish life and memory through the creation of new genres of Jewish discourse (52). In chapter 2, Gillman focuses on Hofmannsthal's use of the pantomime genre, a form of popular theater that incorporates dance, music, and sung narrative, in Der Schüler (1901). Hofmannsthal suppressed the Jewish identity of his characters in the final published version of the pantomime. She also examines the role of the Jewish daughter, Taube, as conforming to the "daughter plot" in Western literature and concludes that Hofmannsthal's experiment with pantomime blurs Christian and Jewish sources (75).

Part two, "Hybrid Plots, Virtual Jews" begins with a chapter on Beer-Hofmann's Der Tod Georgs (1900), which Beer-Hofmann wrote associatively, without the necessary connection between thoughts (78). The work explores the mental processes of Paul the narcissist, the principle character, who returned to Judaism as a result of the death of his friend Georg. In the end, a racial memory, the blood in his veins (95) returned Paul to Judaism. In chapter 4, Gillman examines Schnitzler's two Jewish tragicomedies, Der Weg ins Freie (1908) and Professor Bernhardi (1912). Both failed with his readers, crossed forms and genres, and provided no solutions to the Jewish question (104...